By Willis Barnstone
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Extra resources for We Jews and Blacks: Memoir With Poems
When I think of Rebeca, I remember a small linguistic detail. In 1947 I was living in an orphanage in Mexico City for Spanish student refugees of the Spanish civil war. I shared a free room on the roof with a Catalan chemistry student in exchange for giving English lessons there. When I’d go to see Rebeca and Marti in their apartment in the slums of that very old historic area behind the Grand Zócalo, I’d usually spend the night, sleeping on a mat on the floor between Marti’s brother Sam, a captain in the Mexican army, and the Indian maid.
If the people stuffed in cattle cars has been British or American prisoners of war or civilians on their way to gas chambers, the tracks and chambers would have been gone in days as were the missile launching sites in Denmark when the V2 bombs began to rain down on London. The sites were hidden under stone cliffs, fiercely protected with everything the Germans had, but Allied dive bombers immediately threaded under the rocks and destroyed them, a feat incomparably more difficult than bombing wideopen tracks and the identified buildings containing the gas chambers.
It was unwise to make a wave. Earlier, because of anti-German sentiments during the first World War, large numbers of non-Jewish Germans anglicized their names to avoid ethnic stereotyping. During the second World War the quintessential singing trio in wartime America was “The Andrews Sisters,” three fair-haired figures out of America’s heartland who entertained and inspired the troops with riproaring patriotic songs. These dynamic singers, of Armenian background, also changed name and appearance to pass and be graced by broad American acceptance.